This past week, I decided to give Hello Fresh a try. I had heard mixed reviews of Hello Fresh, but I tried to set them aside and review my meals based on their own merits.
First, a word about packaging. The food came in a pretty standard box, but this one had the nutritional and source information for the meals on the outside of the box. This was an effective way of providing thorough nutritional information as well as providing a contents list. I’m also reminded that this is only the second box that provided thorough nutritional information actually in/on the box. The other was Blue Apron.
The insulation for the box is completely recyclable. Unlike the other packages, it was made from honey-comb cardboard, rather than a natural or synthetic fiber batting. The cooling packs were the filled with a biodegradable slurry and are reusable (except that my freezer is now full of freezer packs because every subscription box comes with them and they really hurt when they fall out of the freezer onto your toe). There was nothing in the box that had to be kept ultra cold, but it seemed like the box was a little warmer than the other boxes.
All of the ingredients for each meal were parceled together into their own paperboard boxes which was both convenient and more environmentally friendly than the packaging for Home Chef or Martha which used plastic bags to parcel the ingredients.
Inside the boxes, the sturdier ingredients were left unwrapped, and some of the packaging was reusable or recyclable. For the pita pockets (left), the only things I threw away were the packages for the pine nuts and the harissa, and the Tex-Mex Risotto had about the same. The tortellini dish (right) was a bit heavier on the packaging. There was nothing in that parcel that could be reused or recycled. In comparison to the others subscription boxes, however, this was probably the most environmentally friendly.
When signing up, I could choose from three different boxes: the Classic Box, the Veggie Box, or the Family Box. I could also choose the number of portions (2 or 4). The Classic and Family Boxes also allowed me to choose how many meals I would like delivered; 3-5 for the Classic box and 2-3 for the Family Box. There was no overlap between the Classic Box and the Veggie Box, so by choosing the veggie option, I couldn’t choose any of the meals from the Classic Box or vice versa.
Dish 1: Harissa Sweet Potato Pita Pockets with Cucumber Dill Salad
Wednesday, April 19, 2017: My first Hello Fresh meal was Harissa Sweet Potato Pita Pockets with Cucumber-Dill Salad. This was a lovely, simple meal. It took about 30 minutes to make. The sweet potatoes were nicely roasted in the oven, but I don’t think they were roasted quite long enough. The skin for the sweet potatoes weren’t quite cooked long enough to become tender, so they were a little difficult to bit through. The cucumber-dill salad was gorgeous. I can’t wait to make it again. It reminded me of a cucumber salad that my grandmother used to make with Miracle Whip and vinegar, but this was much lighter. The pine nuts added a creaminess that went well with the cucumbers, and I absolutely love dill with cucumbers.
There was avocado in the pita pockets, but it felt like a bit of an interloper in the meal. The avocado wasn’t really seasoned or dressed with anything to enhance the flavor so it was just bland and slimy. The pita was a bit hard to open, as you can tell by the cracks and missing pieces in the picture, but that’s expected for whole grain pita since it tends to be a little less pliable than white wheat pita. I’m also reminded that this is only the second whole wheat bread that I’ve received from a subscription meal service.
The harissa mayo was great! They sent more than what was needed for the recipe with the understanding that some people would like a little extra punch to their mayo. They also send an extra clove of garlic, presumably for the same reason. I used both cloves.
Overall, this meal was quite lovely, but I would have (and it kills me to say this) left off the avocado. The other downside was that it wasn’t particularly filling. I ended up eating a handful of carrots and radishes a half hour later.
Dish 2: Risotto alla Tex-Mex with Corn, Charred Bell Pepper, and Pepitas
Friday, April 21, 2017: I made Risotto alla Tex-Mex with Corn, Charred Bell Pepper, and Pepitas for lunch. The nice thing about this recipe is that it offers two roasting methods for the peppers and corn: stovetop or oven. I chose the stove because the oven was already occupied. The dish was pretty easy to make, but making the risotto took a lot more time and liquid than outlined in the recipe. The dish itself was only slightly better than mediocre. For a Tex-Mex dish, there really wasn’t a lot of flavor in the dish. The aromatics were jalapeno, garlic, shallot, and cumin, but it just seemed to be lacking nuance and layers. I would have liked a bit of chili powder to complement the jalapeno. For lunch the next day, I ended up boosting the heat with a little hot sauce, but the dish still felt like it was missing something. I think, ultimately, It felt like more of a side dish than an entree.
Dish 3: Pesto Tortelloni Bake with Asparagus and Parmesean
Sunday, April 23, 2017: The Pesto Tortelloni Bake was absolutely lovely. The pesto was flavorful, and the tortelloni were plump and cooked up to a perfect al dente. I was surprised how well the asparagus worked with everything. It was a bit heavy on the carbs and fat, especially when the second dish in the box was risotto, but it was a nice meal that didn’t require too much work. The only issue I had was that this meal felt more like a double portion of a side dish than a complete meal.
Hello Fresh Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 8/10
How many recipes would I make again? 2.3/3
Overall, this box was pretty good. I was a little disappointed that there were limited options for customizing the box, so I couldn’t add a fish or lighter option to my veggie or veggie options to a classic box.
I also felt that the vegetarian options were a bit lackluster. The only dish that felt like a full meal was the pita pockets, and for a box called the “Veggie box,” two of the meals weren’t particularly veggie driven. This is a trend I’ve noticed with vegetarian options at a lot of restaurants. Rather than coming up with solid, dynamic vegetarian entrees, a lot of restaurants just throw a bunch of veggies on the plate or do a double-portion of something that would usually be a side dish for meat. I was disappointed that none of these dishes utilized complete vegetarian proteins such as soy or quinoa, instead relying on dairy or combined starchy proteins (corn and rice). My ideal combination would have been the pita pockets, the tortellini or risotto, and some kind of bean and quinoa salad or a chickpea curry. Having two heavy starchy dishes was a misstep.
I didn’t order a box from Hello Fresh for this week, but this week’s meals are a bit more well-rounded. They are offering a seitan bolognese, chickpea curry with sweet potatoes, and Greek salad flatbread. The bolognese has spaghetti and the curry has rice, so the box seems pretty heavy on the carbs, but the inclusion of seitan and beans is a step in the right direction for healthy vegetarian meals.
Overall rating: B+
Tomorrow, I’m getting a box from Terra’s Kitchen.
I was at Walmart today, and I found this:
I was craving cake, and I like pineapple upside down cake, so I decided to give it a try.
The final verdict:
Price: $2.50 per box.
Ease of preparation: Easier than easy. It involved nothing more than opening a packet, adding three tablespoons of water, and stirring.
Time: It took about 3.5 minutes from start to finish. 30 seconds to read the instructions, 30 seconds to add the water, 30 seconds to stir, 1 minute 10 seconds in the microwave.
Flavor: Meh. Boxed vanilla cake with fleeting hints of pineapple, undertones of rubber, imitation vanilla flavoring, and a slight chemical leavener aftertaste. The box claims that it contains no artificial ingredients, and I believe them, but there is a difference between a fresh baked cake made with real chunks of pineapple and one that’s made with a variety of ingredients designed to emulate the flavor and appearance of pineapple. This cake is definitely falls into the realm of the latter.
Texture: Soggy and slightly rubbery.
I’m trying to think of a sadder cupcake than this one. Surely, the absence of cake would be sadder. The cake served at the funeral dinner of a beloved grandparent would be a close second. And then there’s this one. Its flavor wasn’t wholly unpleasant, but it did taste rather artificial. I am curious to see if adding pineapple and orange juice would improve it.
Update: I made another cupcake with orange juice instead of water. It tasted leaps and bounds better, but somehow the orange juice obliterated the flavor of the pineapple and made the whole cake taste sickly sweet.
Dish 1: Ruby Red Trout with Creamy Dill Sauce, Sautéed Chard, and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
April 7, 2017: Ruby Red Trout with Creamy Dill Sauce, Sautéed Chard, and Roasted Fingerling Potatoes. This is from my second box from Plated. As I mentioned in my last post, Plated is more expensive than some of the other services, but they also allow the user to choose how many meals they want to receive (2-4) and how many dishes per meal (2-4). To save some money, I ordered only two meals this week. I intended to order a dessert as well, but I think I forgot to confirm the addition.
The box arrived on Tuesday, but I didn’t have time to cook it until Thursday evening. After previous experiences with other boxes (*cough* Martha Spoon), I was a little worried about how well the fish would hold up to the extra storage time, but those concerns were unfounded. The fish was great quality and skin crisped up beautifully. In the past, I’ve had mixed luck getting the skin on fish crispy without it sticking to the pan, but the recipe card offered some helpful instructions that I’m sure helped with my success.
The Swiss Chard got a little over-chilled during transit/storage, but it wasn’t noticeable after it was cooked. The fingerling potatoes were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. My only complaint was the dill sauce. There was a touch too much mustard in the mayo-based sauce, but I’m willing to admit that this criticism is probably more due to my personal dislike of mustard than anything wrong with the recipe.
This meal was absolutely delicious and quite filling. I would definitely make it again, but I’d do a sour cream dill sauce rather than one with mayonnaise and mustard.
Dish 2: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries
April 8, 2017: Cheesy Sweet Onion Panini with Truffle Fries, my final meal from Plated. I love a good sandwich and this certainly fits that description. The addition of arugula helped to cut the richness of the sautéed onions and fontina/Gruyere mix. I went light with the mustard, but it added a nice touch of tanginess. I cooked it in my George Foreman grill which made cooking the sandwich super easy. I only wish the bread was whole wheat or multi-grain.
The portion of fries was supposed to be twice that size, but that seemed a little excessive, so I put aside the second potato for later, but the fries were gorgeous! The truffle zest was slightly peppery and earthy, and every time I got a bit of parsley I was reminded of the beauty of the world.
The downside is that this was a pretty darn expensive sandwich. The box was $54 for two meals, two servings per meal, so when broken down, this sandwich was $13.50. I could have gotten a sandwich on whole grain at Panera for less than that, and I could have gotten it on whole grain bread. I would say that the trout was worth the price but the sandwich, not so much.
My verdict is that Plated has amazing food, probably the best food of all of the services I’ve tried, but it was too expensive.
Plated – Week 2 Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 10/10
How many recipes would I make again? 1.9/2
Like last time, everything was delicious, easy to make, and for the most part, quite quick to prepare. Again, the fish was great quality and held up well in transit and storage. The only problem was that it was a bit too expensive. The fish dish was worth the cost, but the sandwich, even though it did include truffle fries, was not. If I was rolling in money, I would choose Plated over any of the other services so far.
Overall rating: B+
Dish 1: Thai Fish Curry with Kaffir Lime and Jasmine Rice
March 21, 2017 – My first Plated box arrived today, and my first impression is very positive. The first dish is Thai Fish Curry with Kaffir Lime and Jasmine Rice. It reminded me a lot of a Thai Curry Shrimp Soup that I used to make. I usually don’t like tilapia, but I didn’t mind it here. The flavor of the tilapia was mild, but I could still taste it in the soup. The soup had a perfect balance of spices, and it was a very filling dish at only 690 calories per serving. I’d definitely like to make this again.
Plated, like Martha and Marley, gave the option for Tuesday delivery; however, they used a smaller regional delivery service that didn’t have a key to get into the mailroom so they had to call me to let them into the building. I was working from home, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I don’t know what would have happened if I wasn’t home. The box was smaller than the one for Martha and Marley, which made it easier to carry up the three flights of stairs to my apartment. Like Martha and Home Chef, most of the ingredients were bundled together, and thus far the ingredients seem to be high quality. The aforementioned tilapia didn’t taste too muddy and when cooked it didn’t have a mealy texture.
I did notice that one of the recipes calls for two eggs, but they weren’t included in the shipment, but they did send an email today letting me know that I’d need eggs. If I didn’t have eggs left from last week, I would be wicked annoyed, especially since this box is $12 more expensive than Blue Apron, and Blue Apron didn’t leave eggs out of the box when the recipe called for them.
One other thing that I liked about Plated is that they have 10-12 recipes to choose from every week and customization is very easy. This week, four recipes were “encore recipes,” highly rated recipes that are available for the whole month of March. The Fish Curry that I had for lunch was one of the encore recipes, and I can tell why. Next week, there are 12 recipes to choose from, and six of the recipes are encores. Another feature of Plated is that you can choose the number of servings and how many meals you want to receive each week. The minimum is 2 meals with 2 servings each, but you can go up to 4 meals and 4 servings. If you decide to order 4 meals, you will receive the meals in two deliveries to ensure freshness. They also have dessert recipes and ingredients that can be added to your box for $8. I’m going to be out of town next week, so I’m skipping a week, but I added a dessert to my box for the following week.
The only downside is the price of the box. For the 3 meal, 2 serving option, it’s $72. By comparison, the same plan with Blue Apron and Home Chef is $60.
Dish 2: Teriyaki Salmon Tacos with Seaweed Salad
March 24, 2017 – This is my second meal from Plated: Teriyaki Salmon Tacos with Seaweed Salad. This meal was great and it only took about 25 minutes to make. They sent enough tortillas for three tacos, but I decided to save the third tortilla for a future meal and save the extra 120 calories for cookies.
Dish 3: Shakshuka with Roasted Eggplant, Bell Peppers, and Feta
Plated – Week 1 Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 9/10
How many recipes would I make again? 3/3
Everything was delicious, easy to make, and for the most part, quite quick to prepare. Plated makes it very easy to customize the box, and they have a pretty good selection to choose from. The meals were much more globally inspired than the other services. I could easily see myself incorporating these dishes into my regular rotation. The fish was great quality, and they even made tilapia palatable to me, which is a bit of a feat. The only gripe I have is that they did not supply the eggs for the Shakshuka.
I also appreciate that you can customize how many meals and dishes you can get in each box. I’m going to take advantage of that and order only two dishes when I return from my trip. Plated offers the option of including a dessert in box, so I’m going to get a dessert in the next box.
Overall rating: A
Dish 1: Pan-Seared Cod & Greens with Garlicky Potato Puree
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 – My second box from Martha and Marley Spoon arrived, and I made Pan-Seared Cod & Greens with Garlicky Potato Puree today. After the issues with the fish last week, I checked the website and they advised to make the fish dishes first even though it says that it should be cooked within 5 days on the package. I guess they don’t expect people to actually make a dish the day the box arrives because the fish was still pretty icy. The flavor of the fish was better this week, but I couldn’t get a good sear, and the texture was a bit mealy.
The collard greens were delicious, and I loved the addition of dill sprinkled on everything. On the negative side, the garlicky mashed potatoes were just a touch too vinegary. The recipe recommend getting a bit of everything on the fork to ensure the perfect bite, but the vinegar totally obliterated the taste of the fish. I also take issue with calling the potatoes a puree. I followed the directions, and they were not pureed. They were mashed. It isn’t a big deal, but I hate when people are imprecise with their terminology just to make something sound fancier.
In all, the dish was pretty good. If I were to make it again, I would use better quality fish and cut the amount of vinegar. I’m looking forward to my next meal.
Dish 2: Warm Vegetable Pan Roast with Feta & Arugula-Pepita Salad
- Holy jumping Batman on a pogo stick, this was not a low calorie dish at 810 calories per serving. As my old art teacher used to say, trust Americans to make something as healthy as a salad full of fat and calories. I’ve had chocolate cake with fewer calories.
- I wasn’t planning to make this dish tonight. You see, I was planning to make these beautiful black bean veggie burgers that were crusted with sesame seeds, but as I looked over the recipe card, I noticed that the recipe calls for an egg, but egg was not listed in the contents of the bag. I looked down a little farther on the card, and the egg was listed in the “What You Need” section. I didn’t have any eggs. I ate the last one on Saturday and neglected to pick up more when I went shopping for the week on Sunday. Martha and Marley did send me a message on Monday (a day late) saying what ingredients I would need to supply, but for all of the other boxes I needed nothing more than oil, salt, and pepper, so I didn’t take the time to read it. Stupid me. Stupid Martha and Marley for not supplying all of the major ingredients. Stupid veggie burgers for tempting me with your deliciousness. I am irrationally angry and tired from writing all day.
March 17, 2017 – My final meal from Martha and Marley Spoon: Black Bean Burgers with Sriracha Mayonnaise and a side of radishes and lightly marinated cucumbers. Like the other meals from Martha, all of the ingredients came bundled in a paper bag, except for that thrice-blasted egg I mentioned above.
The radishes were very soft, so I sliced them and tossed them in the marinade with the cucumbers. The can of beans had two huge dents and a little surface rust. It was nothing dangerous (the dents were nowhere close to the seams and the rust was only on the surface), but I was a little annoyed that the can was in such poor condition.
Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 2 Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 8/10
How many recipes would I make again? 2.5/3
Positives: Everything tasted great, and all of the ingredients were bundled together in a bag which was wicked convenient. It was also easy to cancel my subscription and customize my box.
Negatives: The quality of the fish was better this week, but it was still a bit ice damaged. The quality of some of the other ingredients was also lacking. The can of beans was in pretty rough shape and the radishes were very soft. I would have liked to have used the radish tops, but about half of them had gone completely brown and the other half was limp and lifeless. I’m also a bit bitter about the missing egg. Part of the appeal of these boxes is that everything is supplied. I had to make a special trip to the grocery store in order to make one of the recipes and that’s just not cool. Aside from the fish, the recipes were also surprisingly high in calories with the salad coming in at 810 calories and the veggie burger 740 calories.
I was expecting very good things from Martha and Marley, but I was quite disappointed. The salad and black bean burger were tasty, but none of the recipes were particularly special.
At the end of this week, I was left wondering how much of the cost of the box went to branding.
Overall rating: C+
Thursday, March 9, 2017 – Sesame-Mustard Cod with Miso Cabbage Slaw. Ooof, this is probably the closest I’ve come to a failure since I started this experiment. First, I was missing an ingredient. I checked and rechecked the packaging, but the mint for the cabbage slaw was nowhere in sight. I contacted Martha and Marley Spoon; they apologized and offered me a $6 credit on my next box which was nice of them.
The panko crust toasted up nicely, but the fish did not cook very well. The piece of cod was really thick, so I went for the far end of recommended baking time (10 minutes). When I pulled the fish from the oven, it was still largely raw. I put it back in the oven for another 8 minutes, and it still tasted undercooked and rubbery. There also wasn’t a lot of flavor to the fish. I hate to say it, but I’ve had better cod from Long John Silver’s*.
There was one positive aspect to this meal: the miso cabbage slaw. It was absolutely delicious which is a good thing because there is a lot of it. It was made with nearly a full head of Napa cabbage. I filled my plate twice and there’s still 2/3 of it left. I’m looking forward to having it as a side with tomorrow night’s veggie burger. I’m going to remember that dressing for the future.
I’m getting another cod dish from Martha & Marley next week. I’m hoping that this was just a bad batch and next week is better.
*Update: I had the second piece of cod for lunch today, and the flavor of the sauce was much better after mellowing out over night. The quality of the fish was no better with the second piece. It still looked undercooked, even though I heated it on high in the microwave, and it was mostly flavorless. The microwave did the texture no favors, but honestly, I didn’t expect it to – fish and microwaves are generally not friends. I’m starting to think that 425 degrees Fahrenheit was just too hot to properly cook the fish. It should have been cooked at a lower temperature for longer. The Miso-Cabbage Slaw was still the star of the dish.
Martha and Marley Spoon – Week 1 Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 9/10
How many recipes would I make again? 2.4/3
Positives: The ingredients for each meal were packaged together in paper bags, and the recipes were easy to follow. I also liked that the list of ingredients was on the same side of the recipe card as the procedure for cooking, so I didn’t have to keep flipping back and forth. The other thing that I liked was that I could get the package delivered on Tuesday which works better for my schedule.
Negatives: I had to create a new grading category for this week: quality. Honestly, I thought about adding it before, but I didn’t think it would be necessary. I started with the grading system after I had received boxes from a few companies, and the ingredient quality was always so stellar that I didn’t think I would need a quality category. Martha and Marley Spoon proved me wrong. The ingredients were great for my first meal, but my second meal was missing the mint and the fish was quite sub-par. The mushrooms for the third meal were bruised and mushy, and one was even a bit moldy. The red pepper for that dish was also a bit soft and wrinkly. It was like I had left them in my fridge for ten days rather than five. I was not impressed. The other ingredients – green pepper, farro, broccoli, etc – were just fine.
When it comes to cost, at $62 the subscription is two dollars more per week than Home Chef and Blue Apron, but when it comes to quality, Martha and Marley is just not worth it.
Snicket’s review: My cat does not like the Martha and Marley box nearly as much as she liked the Blue Apron and Home Chef boxes. It’s slightly taller than the other boxes, so she has to use the scratcher to jump into the box, and it has two really long flaps that don’t fold down properly making it hard to jump into. She had been using a Home Chef box constantly until I had to replace it, but she’s only used the Martha box once since then. She just jumps into the box, scratches around a bit, and then jumps out again. She also preferred the salmon from Home Chef to the cod from Martha.
I’m getting one more week of Martha and Marley. Fingers crossed that it’s better than week 1.
Overall Rating: C-
Since it was comparable in price to Blue Apron, I ended up getting two weeks of Home Chef. If anything, the second week was even better than the first.
Thursday, March 3 – My second Home Chef box arrived on Wednesday, and I cooked this for lunch today. It’s Black Bean Tortilla Soup with avocado, lime, and homemade tortilla strips. The soup was delicious and easy to make. It took about 40 minutes, but a lot of that time was passive time as the soup simmered. The dish was vegan and extremely filling. I got three meals out of it. The tortilla strips softened almost instantly when they hit the soup, which was ok, because they were like noodles.
The only issue I had was with mashing the beans. The recipe asked for half of the beans to be mashed into a paste, but I somehow misplaced the business part of my masher a few years ago. I bought a replacement that works great for potatoes, but not so good for mashing anything else. I could have gotten out the immersion blender, but that would have required effort. Still, the soup was delicious, if a bit thinner than the recipe called for. It was nicely spicy. I could definitely see myself making this again.
Friday, March 3 – This is the second meal from this week’s Home Chef box: Teriyaki Ginger-Glazed Salmon with stir-fried bok choy and carrots, and holy crap was it good. The teriyaki sauce wasn’t too sweet, but it was flavorful. The fish was good quality and super flavorful. The only thing I thought it needed was a little bit of sesame seed.
I did run into some troubles making the dish. When I followed the timing for the recipe, the salmon was finished before the vegetables were. Since I was using my stove for cooking and countertop for cutting, I didn’t have anywhere to put the fish when the timer went off. I turned off and opened the oven, and just let the fish rest there for a little bit until the vegetables were done. I was worried that it would dry out, but luckily, it didn’t. The fish was tender and juicy.
My hands also started shaking a few minutes into cooking, so my spring onion ribbons aren’t as dainty as they were in the picture with the recipe. I kind of like my chunky ribbons though.
Thus far, Home Chef has not failed to impress. This was probably my favorite meal since I started this experiment a month ago. I also just noticed that this recipe is a customer favorite. I can see why.
Home Chef Week 2 Summary
Ease/clarity of recipes: 10/10
How many recipes would I make again? 2.5/3
Verdict: I loved the meals this week. I wish they had sent another salad, but the fish came with a ton of vegetables, and there were mushrooms, spinach, and tomatoes in the pasta, so I can’t complain too much. There’s not a dish from this week that I wouldn’t happily make again; although, I might not make the pasta again for a while since it was a little too carby for me. Home Chef gets a blue ribbon.
Overall Rating: A